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The new edition of *Practicing Christian Doctrine* is coming soon
Plus, a backstage pass preview of an excerpt from the new edition
I’m delighted to have, right here in my hands, a copy of the second edition of my book Practicing Christian Doctrine: An Introduction to Thinking and Living Theologically.
The book is due out in July from Baker. Preorders are important for the success of a book, so, if you’re planning to get a copy eventually, go ahead and preorder now!
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I wrote Practicing Christian Doctrine for my students; it came from my experience as a teacher and my desire that students should be able to access the historic beauty of the Christian faith—spread out over centuries and continents—and unified in the one Lord, Jesus Christ.
Some textbooks were, in my opinion, too short and some too long; I wanted to write one that would be “just right” in length. More than that, though, I wanted to write a book that refuses to pretend that only one Christian tradition is the Christian tradition and to do so while being as faithful as I know how to Jesus. I wanted to write a book that is both ecumenical and evangelical.
For the second edition of the book, I also had to deal with ways that the term “evangelical” has been hijacked since the publication of the first edition.
Thus, the new introduction includes the following:
The label “evangelical” is now claimed by many who rarely attend church, who do not affirm the doctrines of historic Christianity, and who use the term to describe partisan political and social identities rather than Christian faith. This has also revealed how historians’ definitions of evangelicalism have not paid attention to race and have not acknowledged the degree to which “evangelical” has labelled, primarily, white churches in the United States. Because of this, many Christians who love the gospel, affirm orthodox theology, and swim in the historical streams of evangelicalism no longer want to use the term. When I wrote the first edition of this book and claimed the label “evangelical,” it was for historical and doctrinal reasons. Now, I must claim it as an act of rebellion against its demonic misuse in ways that pull against the gospel of Jesus Christ. All of this gives you, the reader, a better sense of the context and commitments from which I, the author, practice doctrine.
The second edition, available for preorder here.
What’s new in the 2nd edition?
The biggest new feature: each chapter includes a brand new section linking that chapter’s doctrine to a specific Christian practice or spiritual discipline. For instance, sections on the doctrine of the Trinity and worship and on ecclesiology and evangelism. Below, paid subscribers can access a sneak preview of one of these sections.
The chapter on theological anthropology includes a new section on human unity and diversity, including factors like race and gender.
The chapter on eschatology includes expanded reflection on final eschatological mysteries.
There are minor updates and (I hope!) felicitous revisions throughout.
Thanks to some tight editing, the new edition comes in at the same length as the first edition.
Backed by our Springer Spaniel, my #theologycat, Dwight, gives his imprimatur to the 2nd edition.
I hope the book is useful for students and teachers of theology, including in academic and church settings. It’s aimed at beginning audiences, but it is not dumbed down.
If you’ve found the first edition useful, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
Below, paid subscribers can read an exclusive excerpt from the new edition.
The Doctrine of Creation & Practices of the Body
An excerpt from chapter 4, “A Delightful World: Doctrines of Creation and Providence” in Practicing Christian Doctrine, 2nd edition, by Beth Felker Jones.
Since God is the Creator of all that is, every practice of spiritual formation is implicated by the doctrine of creation. But in cultures where hierarchical dualism runs especially deep and infects Christian teaching about how we relate to God, the doctrine of creation can offer special motivation for reclamation and rethinking of those practices especially associated with the body. The word ascetism is now associated with hierarchical dualism, even with punishment of the body, but this is not the best understanding of the idea. The root of the word ascetic means “training,” and Christian ascetic practices are those that acknowledge and include the body in our spiritual training. Like an athletic training program at its best, this training is not punishment of the body but the opposite. Training recognizes embodiment as central to being human and establishes habits meant to help the body do what it is meant to do: for the athlete, to compete; for the Christian, to “glorify God” (1 Cor. 6:20). So, Christian tradition recognizes that body practices—such as establishing rhythms of feasting and fasting; paying attention to postures (kneeling in prayer, for example); and practicing sexual faithfulness—are important to the spiritual life, to training body-soul persons as faithful image bearers. A practice like fasting is not done because the body is bad. It is done because, when we honor the body and the ways it shapes our spiritual lives, we see that fasting can help us to focus on God.
Sadly, contemporary North American culture is so deep in body-hatred that it can be very difficult for Christians to reclaim such practices. Cultural practices that claim to be about caring for the body are often thinly veiled practices of denigration of the body. While healthy eating or exercise ought to be practices of embodied joy and embodied courage, it is almost impossible for some of us to think of them as anything but punishment for bodies that do not measure up to impossible standards of commercial beauty. While I might wish to go to the gym for the glory of God, the scripts in my head make it hard for the action to be about anything but seeking a standard of attractiveness defined not by God but by companies that want to sell me endless products. We’re tyrannized by beauty standards that have a lot to do with racism, classism, and consumerism and nothing to do with God’s glory. Add to this the fact that so many of us have experienced abuse in the body, including intimate partner violence and sexual violence, and the idea that we might claim our embodiment as a created gift becomes illusory.
Often, unable to imagine bodies as being for the glory of God, Christians end up reinforcing secular messages in which “taking care of” one’s body is about conforming to societal standards of attractiveness. The beautiful truth that the “body is a temple” (1 Cor. 6:19) is used to shame people for not losing weight or not sculpting their abs. But the fact that God made the body and makes the body a temple is not something to be earned, certainly not by conforming to a sinful world. Those facts are gifts of grace. They’re given. That truth is ours in Christ, through the power of the Spirit, and not a status to be earned. Some Christians in this context may be able to reclaim traditional ascetic practices like fasting, but for many, fasting will be unhealthy because of close links to disordered messages about what the body is for, messages that are tied up with disordered eating and denigration of the flesh. Some of us, in our body-denigrating context, will need to focus instead on practices of affirmation of the body, such as eating for nourishment and for joy or moving for strength and health and to nurture our ability to love, to serve, and to glorify God in the body. We may need to feast more than we need to fast. God made and loves and has good purposes for our bellies and our thighs. God made and loves and has good purposes for our hands and our feet. Our bodily practices can be prayers of gratitude for God’s love.
Excerpted from Practicing Christian Doctrine: An Introduction to Thinking and Living Theologically. Baker, 2023. ©Beth Felker Jones. All rights reserved. Preorder here.
Grace & peace,
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